Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Predators may contact children using ‘smart’ Christmas gifts bought by unsuspecting parents, expert warns

Dr Xavier Bellekens from Strathclyde University
Dr Xavier Bellekens from Strathclyde University

Children across Scotland could be targeted by predators using toys and devices bought as Christmas presents by unsuspecting parents, a leading cyber security expert has warned.

Dr Xavier Bellekens said receiving certain connected or ‘smart’ gifts which discretely capture and transmit data could be “one of the worst things that can happen” to a child as it may allow strangers to listen, watch and even speak to them.

The Strathclyde University expert highlighted a number of recent cases where popular children’s toys and products have been revealed to be vulnerable to hacking, and called for parents to be more aware of the risks.

Earlier this month, consumer group Which? and cyber security firm NCC Group found a set of popular walkie talkies was one of a number leading children’s products which have flaws meaning strangers could, under certain conditions, contact users.

Dr Bellekens, a former Abertay University lecturer, said: “We need to educate parents and children to make them understand the risks of these devices.

“There are conversations to be had to raise that awareness but we also need stronger legislation to make companies more liable for data leaks.

“One of the problems is parents don’t look at the box and see where the data collected is going. The first step is to ask if they really need the device. After that, research the product and read the product description.

“Is the toy recording data? Has the data been encrypted? Has the company been hacked before? If it has, I think they should be very careful.

“They should also look at the connections and whether location data is being gathered. I wouldn’t want information on my child being collected and then sent somewhere without my knowledge.”

Which? research has also identified karaoke toys with design flaws which could enable a stranger to stream audio to a child from metres away because of a lack of Bluetooth authentication.

Dr Bellekens insisted companies must do more to make devices safe for children but warned the market has been “flooded” with smaller and overseas firms, meaning there is less incentive or capability to address security concerns.

He said: “In the case of children, companies should really do more – they must take proactive steps to protect devices for children.

“Larger companies like Google have taken some of those steps already. Once in a while a vulnerability is found but these companies are usually able to patch those issues.

“The market is being flooded with smaller companies or ones from other countries so increasingly the incentive is not there to work on fixes for these problems.”

Dr Bellekens said most devices now have options to modify settings around privacy and security but there are fewer controls on children’s products. He said this is what makes them “so dangerous”.

Children’s charity NSPCC Scotland said it is “really important” parents understand the potential safety risks of any toys or devices connected to the internet.

A spokesman added: “The new Age Appropriate Design Code from the Information Commissioner’s Office should include provisions for smart toys so children are protected when they use them.”

Already a subscriber? Sign in

[[title]]

[[text]]